Two Stories of Escaping WW2 POW Camps

The fascinating story of how Waddington’s Monopoly sets were used to help captured Allied soldiers escape from Nazi POW camps:

In 1941, the British Secret Service approached Waddington with its master plan, and before long, production of a “special edition” Monopoly set was underway. For the top-secret mission, the factory set aside a small, secure room—unknown to the rest of its employees—where skilled craftsmen sat and painstakingly carved small niches and openings into the games’ cardboard boxes. Along with the standard thimble, car, and Scotty dog, the POW version included additional “playing” pieces, such as a metal file, a magnetic compass, and of course, a regional silk escape map, complete with marked safe-houses along the way—all neatly concealed in the game’s box. Even better, some of the Monopoly money was real. Actual German, Italian, and French currency was placed underneath the play money for escapees to use for bribes.

I have a certain fondness for stories such as these.

My late grandfather was a WW2 POW in Capua 66 on the plains below Mount Vesuvius, Italy. After escaping from the camp, he made made his way 750km north, past Rome, to Milan where he stayed in a safe-house/restaurant run by a Welsh woman (from Cardiff, now my home town). Once winter passed and the snows subsided, he then made his way another 250km north, over the Alps, into Switzerland where he worked, hidden, on a farm before eventually making his way back to Allied land.

That was just one of the stories my grandfather revealed to me in the months before his death a few weeks ago. Before then, few knew that he witnessed the first V-2 rocket attack on the UK (while on leave after arriving back to the UK following his POW experience), or that he had served in the same unit as Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe‘s brother, Fred, while in Tunisia (where he, and many others, were captured and sent to the POW camp).

Stories like this are so humbling.